A former Nazi guard has been deported to Germany after living quietly in the U.S. for decades. Attempts to deport Jakiw Palij have been active since 2004, but no country was willing to take responsibility for the alleged war criminal.
Palij, 95, was born in an area of Poland that is now Ukraine. Neither country was willing to take him, and since he was never actually a German citizen, Germany denied responsibility as well. Finally, on Tuesday, the German foreign minister accepted Palij’s deportation.
“We accept the moral obligation of Germany, in whose name terrible injustice was committed under the Nazis,” the minister told the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, according to The New York Times. “We are taking responsibility vis-à-vis the victims of National Socialism and our international partners — even if that demands of us what are at times politically difficult considerations.”
Palij came to the the U.S. in 1949, lying about his work during World War II, CNN reports. The former Nazi claimed he worked on a farm and in a factory during the war, but in reality he was a guard at the Trawniki Labor Camp, where in 1943 around 6,000 Jewish prisoners were shot to death in one of the war’s largest single massacres.
“By serving as an armed guard at the Trawniki Labor Camp and preventing the escape of Jewish prisoners during his Nazi service, Palij played an indispensable role in ensuring that the Trawniki Jewish victims met their horrific fate at the hands of the Nazis,” said the White House in a statement.
Palij earned U.S. citizenship in 1957, but was tracked down by investigators in 1993. Ten years later, he lost his citizenship, and shortly thereafter a federal judge ordered his deportation. But Palij continued to live in Queens with his wife.
Upon his arrival in Germany, Palij was taken to a nursing home near Münster. Palij was believed to have been the last living Nazi criminal residing in the U.S., the Times reports.
“The United States will not tolerate those who facilitated Nazi crimes and other human rights violations, and they will not find a safe haven on American soil,” said the White House.
Palij denies the accusations against him, saying he only worked as a guard because the SS threatened him and his family.